Hi guys! Welcome back to episode/post #3. In this episode I will go into part one of my mom’s metastatic breast cancer diagnosis- hopefully without crying, but I can’t make any promises.
Her original breast cancer diagnosis was in March of 2007 (another year from hell- more on that later) when she turned 49. It was considered stage 2 breast cancer because it had spread to a few lymph nodes. She had a mastectomy and underwent chemotherapy which put her in remission for 12 years. She was doing great. Life was good! And then cancer reared its stupid ugly face in March of 2019. This time it was considered stage 4 metastatic breast cancer because it had returned to the bone. I was beyond devastated. I remember exactly how the conversation went. It was May of 2019 right before Mother’s day. She first asked us if we would come by for dinner that Sunday and I said sure. When we got there her friend and support person, Rita, (who is a breast cancer warrior/survivor) was also there with us, but I didn’t think anything of it. My mom waited for my brother to arrive and then she said lets go to the family room to sit I need to share something. So we all go and sit, and instantly I can tell it’s going to be bad news. She starts off by saying “first off, I’m ok” and with those words I just immediately put my face in my hands and started to sob because I knew what was coming. She says, “My breast cancer has come back and it has spread to the bone, but I’m going to be ok so I don’t want you to worry.” From that moment she begins to explain how stage 4 breast cancer isn’t a death sentence and they caught it early so she will have plenty of treatment options and can live for many years. We were told to think of it more like ‘chronic disease’ not terminal illness. Needless to say, when we were heading out I gave her a hug (while holding my dog Winnie) and I just started to sob in her chest. My dog, who is a fan of my salty tears, decided to start licking them off my face which oddly enough felt comforting at the time. The car ride home was just me sobbing uncontrollably because I knew that this was going to be a hard road for her and that she might not be here for more than a few years. The average prognosis for metastatic breast cancer is 2-5 years. I tried to avoid reading the stats because it gave me a lot of anxiety, but the thing with metastatic cancer is even though there are many treatment options, you’re always holding your breath because you know – with near certainty- that it will inevitably come back. I didn’t eat that day or the next several days and I had to drug myself with Tylenol pm in order to sleep.
Aside from my mom’s devastating news, I was still battling infertility. I had a miscarriage and an early loss just months before she told us and I was gearing up that month for a third egg retrieval. I felt extremely overwhelmed and just absolutely crushed that my mom had to endure another battle with cancer. Why did she have to go through this again? Why does my family have to deal with so much bullshit?! I felt awful and guilty. She was grieving my infertility and absorbing my pain – as a mother does – because I was venting to her. She handled my dad’s problems and my brothers problems, my problems and now she had to deal with terminal illness on top of all that. She carried so much of our weight and I can’t help but feel like the stress of my situation made her sick. ugh. I also felt more pressure to bring a child into the world as quickly as possible because I wanted so badly for her to have a grandchild. I prayed so hard that my next transfer I would be pregnant so that she could be here for that. It turns out I did get pregnant in June, but unfortunately in July I miscarried that pregnancy. I was grieving. From the start of my journey in 2016 to the present moment I was in a constant state of grief – with brief moments of joy sprinkled in. Grieving all of our losses, grieving infertility, grieving the life that we wanted, and grieving my mom’s cancer diagnosis. It felt incredibly heavy. Too heavy. Not to mention, she didn’t want me to share her news with any of my friends or family because there was a wedding and baptism happening that summer and she didn’t want to darken the mood. As usual, she was worried about everyone else. So I had to carry the weight of my third miscarriage and my mom’s cancer diagnosis while life continued to move on even though I felt like my world was crashing. Nevertheless, I had to be strong for her as she always was for me. I put on a brave face and told her we will get through this together and that she would be ok – even though I had no way of knowing this. With cancer – and likely with any unfortunate circumstances- half, if not most, of the battle is your mindset. Research shows that those who remain positive, hopeful and optimistic have better outcomes when battling a cancer diagnosis. I believe that to be true. My mom was a fighter from start to finish. She never felt sorry for herself or asked”why me?” she accepted her fate with grace. She was a true warrior.
In June we hit the ground running. We made appointments with all the top doctors at every well known Chicago hospital as well as Mayo clinic. I was going to my own fertility appointments and going with her to her second opinions. After four different medical opinions we decided on a treatment plan. My mom’s case was a special one. Typically with breast cancer there is a type like her2+ or her2- etc. Unfortunately for my mom she was borderline her2+ (of course 🙄) meaning it wasn’t 100% her2+ but it also wasn’t considered her2-, so they weren’t sure which direction to go for treatment because the treatment course changes depending on what ‘type’ it is. Her oncologist reviewed with other doctors and they decided to try the her2- route first because it was ‘easier’ meaning it didn’t require full blown chemotherapy – the one where you lose your hair. She took some pills and that was it. Unfortunately, after about a few months on this drug her tumor markers (a blood test they use to detect cancer) gradually started to go up. We were pretty bummed about this because her oncologist had said so many people respond well to this medication and last about five years before needing to switch treatment again. So my mom fell on the shit side of statistics. We quickly switched course to a more aggressive route – the one that Mayo clinic had suggested- and she started Chemo that fall. We went wig shopping together and got her brand new ‘real virgin hair’ wigs. Though she didn’t like wearing them because they irritated her scalp so instead she would wear cute little caps. She had chemo every three weeks and in between she would go to Florida for a mental health boost. That was her happy place. My parents bought a condo that they gutted and remodeled in Pompano Beach, Florida -in 2018- hoping to retire there. It was her dream to have a condo overlooking the beach and she finally got it! A year later she gets diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer 🤦♀️ Talk about shit luck. Anyway, her attitude and her spirits were high and she was kicking ass. We also went to see Dr Block, a holistic oncologist, who believes in diet and supplements along-side traditional western medicine (I highly recommend exploring this route for anyone with a cancer diagnosis). She was seeing a nutritionist at his clinic who immediately told her to stop eating meat and dairy. She basically went plant-based overnight. I truly believe this kept her strong during chemo and prevented severe side effects. It was an adjustment taking 30+ pills a day and completely changing her diet, but she was in it to win it. 💪 All of 2019 through 2020 she was doing fantastic up until she caught covid on Thanksgiving. 😔 She actually only had a mild fever for a day and some coughing for a few more days, but I believe covid triggered a host of other issues that took place in 2021, and ultimately led her to the end of her fight with cancer.
I’ll go into 2021 -which was the year we met our surrogate and got pregnant and also the year my mom received her third and final cancer diagnosis – in my next post. It started with the highest of highs and ended with the lowest of lows. Extreme feelings that are incredibly hard to process at the same time, but somehow we survived. No one prepares us for death. We know it’s coming, yet we never want to think about it or talk about it until it hits us in the face and we can’t hide from it anymore. That’s where I’m at today. Confronting my worst fear and nightmare in the face, every. single. day. 😔
Well, that concludes part one of my mom’s cancer journey. As always, thank you for listening ❤️